The cannabis component won’t get you high, but it might make you well

CBD is billed as the panacea du jour.

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating chemical component of cannabis, touted as a treatment for just about everything — anxiety, acne, insomnia, digestive problems, arthritis, epilepsy, nausea, pain, depression, headaches and tremors — and for overcoming addiction’s persistent urges. You name it.

My college-age daughter and friends use CBD sublingual (under the tongue) tinctures for anxiety flare-ups, from overwhelming academic demands and a too busy university life. My adult son eats CBD gummies for insomnia. A neighbor gives CBD to his arthritic Labrador retriever who, before CBD dosing, could not even stand up. Now she walks a mile a day, a slight hitch kicking her tail into a whirligig.

It is a half-billion dollar industry, projected to soon hit $22 billion, according to Brightfield Group, a Chicago-based market research company focused on cannabis. And that figure was calculated before the U.S. Congress legalized industrial hemp as a crop when it passed the 2018 Farm Bill last month. Growing hemp is already legal in California, and CBD is nearly everywhere — in Pasadena-area health food stores, foodie eateries, CBD-only storefronts, artisanal coffee houses and boutique hotels. You will find elegantly packaged CBD gummies in minibars, CBD-infused foods and smoothies, CBD tinctures, CBD-infused waters and CBD gel pills. There are also topical treatments like CBD-infused salves, lotions and body oils. I can walk to a health food store and have a dropper of CBD added to a juice tonic for $4. Pet food stores sell a range of CBD tinctures for beloved animals, lined up behind the cashier, beckoning as you buy premium-grade chow.

But there is trouble in CBD-land.

All ingestible CBD products derived from industrial hemp are being sold unlawfully, according to the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. CBD or CBD oil can be derived from both industrial hemp and cannabis. The distinction is this: Hemp or industrial hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa L. plant species, which has no more than .3 percent of THC (the psychoactive component). The only lawful places to buy ingestible CBD — as long as the CBD is derived from cannabis plants (which have 5 to 35 percent THC), not of the industrial hemp variety — are marijuana businesses that are state-licensed and locally permitted to sell marijuana products.

The prohibition on selling hemp-derived CBD ingestible products elsewhere is fairly recent. In July, the California Department of Public Health’s Food and Drug Branch stated that CBD is a prohibited food additive and that cannabis cannot be sold in any retail food operation such as restaurants, coffeehouses or grocery stores. CBD oil or CBD ingestible products derived from cannabis — that is, the non-hemp variety — can be sold only in state-licensed cannabis retail stores and businesses, according to the CDPC. The prohibition is based, in part, on the grounds that CBD derived from both hemp and cannabis is a federally regulated controlled substance. Cannabis and CBD is listed as a Schedule I Drug, along with LSD, heroin and cocaine. A Schedule I Drug is defined as a substance with no known medical use and a high potential for abuse under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, according to the federal Department of Drug Enforcement (DEA).   

“Until the FDA rules that industrial-hemp-derived CBD oil and CBD products can be used as a food or California makes a determination that they are safe to use for human and animal consumption, CBD products are not an approved food, food ingredient, food additive or dietary supplement,” the CDPH website states.

Ingestible CBD products derived from non-hemp cannabis plant species are legally sold in licensed cannabis retail stores and businesses, which are required by state regulations to lab test all products. Strictly regulated and licensed cannabis businesses protect consumers from mislabeling and contaminants like mold or pesticides, the state says. There is no regulatory agency that has oversight of CBD-oil production from industrial hemp, the CDPH website states.

None of the ingestible CBD derived from industrial hemp is being sold legally in brick-and-mortar stores or online. But you can probably still buy it over the counter at your local health food store, get a café latte with a shot of CBD in it, purchase tinctures online or cruise Ocean Front Walk in Venice, where there are two freestanding CBD-only stores in operation.

As for Pasadena, the city bans all sales of cannabis, including CBD from cannabis or hemp, said Lisa Derderian, Pasadena public information officer. “Cannabis operations have been prohibited from operating since 2005 and in [October], we shut down two of them and the city attorney charged them with operating without a license and operating illegally,” said Derderian.  “All of it, including CBD that is derived from cannabis or industrial-hemp CBD, is illegal.”

But that will change this year. Pasadena voters passed measures CC and DD in 2018, a move that allows the city to permit limited legal cannabis businesses within the municipal district. Pasadena will be permitting six cannabis retailers, four testing labs and four cannabis cultivators in 2019, Derderian said. A November workshop attracted 250 cannabis business interests, some from as far away as Canada, she added.

Confusion over regulating a market that has exploded well in advance of laws, permits and licenses needed to govern it, is normal for all things cannabis. But there is a multipronged effort in the works to push the state to address the lapse in regulation specifically addressing industrial-hemp-derived CBD ingestible products. “There is a very broad coalition of cannabis industry associations, individuals and legislators working to tackle hemp-derived CBD regulations,” said Josh Drayton, communications outreach director for the California Cannabis Industry Assn. (CCIA), a trade group based in Sacramento. “There has been hesitancy at the state Bureau of Cannabis Control to deal with this because they weren’t specifically tasked to do this. Everyone is so careful of the language used, because we don’t want to overtax, overregulate or overburden hemp and hemp-derived CBD the way cannabis has been.”

Refining the language in a proposal to write regulations for hemp CBD is one of CCIA’s top priorities for 2019. There is a new state legislature with many new members, along with a new governor, Drayton added, so many of the people the coalition had worked with have moved on and fresh connections must be forged to move proposed regulation forward.

Quality control and labeling accuracy is a reasonable concern. A November 2017 Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) study found that nearly 70 percent of all cannabidiol products sold online contained either higher or lower concentrations of CBD or THC than indicated on the label. What that means is these mislabeled products are ineffective or potentially harmful. Pure CBD should be THC-free, the study’s lead author Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in JAMA. Underlabeling was less concerning because CBD appears to have no serious harmful consequences at high doses, but “the THC content observed may be sufficient to produce intoxication or impairment, especially among children,” Bonn-Miller wrote. He called for manufacturing and testing standards and oversight of online medicinal cannabis. (Bonn-Miller and co-researcher Ryan Vandrey reported receiving personal fees from cannabis industry groups, nonprofits and pharmaceutical companies.)

The regulations simply have not caught up with the public enthusiasm for CBD and its potential to alleviate a raft of health issues without devastating side effects. One FDA-approved drug based on CBD is Epidiolex, made by GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company. The drug, approved by the FDA in June, is the first prescription cannabis-derived medicine available in the U.S. It is used to treat two forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gaustaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.  Both are among the most difficult types of epilepsy to treat, according to the FDA. Lennox-Gastaut syndrome usually appears between the ages of 3 to 5 years old, and Dravet syndrome starts in the first year of life. Both are lifelong conditions that can be catastrophic. An estimated 30,000 children and adults have Lennox-Gastaut syndrome; fewer have Dravet syndrome.

Epidiolex was approved by the FDA after GW Pharma submitted beneficial results from three randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials conducted on patients with both forms of epilepsy. The medication is now available at local pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS. The DEA had to classify Epidiolex’s precise CBD formula as a Schedule V, indicating a low risk for abuse; this is the first time the DEA has listed a cannabis product as anything other than a Schedule 1 substance (i.e., the most dangerous) under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Epidiolex is proof of CBD’s promise. CBD, whether drawn from cannabis or industrial hemp, is being investigated for a wildly diverse array of physical and psychiatric maladies. Studies are ongoing, but it’s a slow laborious process getting a cannabis-based drug through research trials to final FDA approval. The time frame depends in part on delays in getting all of the federal regulatory approvals for the research and then gaining access to product. It could be four years before there are published results from a given cannabis study, according to J. Hampton Atkinson, a psychiatrist and co-director of UCSD’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR). U.S. and international clinical trials either completed or in the process of recruiting participants number 167, said Atkinson.

The studies are focused on various conditions, including CBD treatment for cannabis withdrawal and cannabis abuse, heart failure, bipolar disorder, acute schizophrenia, alcohol and cocaine abuse, Crohn’s disease, infantile spasms, various types of childhood epilepsy, Tourette’s Syndrome, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic-stress disorder. At CMCR, Atkinson said, researchers plan to study CBD’s efficacy in treating early psychosis (in addition to conventional antipsychotic drugs); anorexia nervosa anxiety; low-movement tremor; and childhood autism-spectrum disorders. In childhood autism, for example, CBD has been shown to reduce anger and repetitive behaviors, like turning in circles and head banging, thereby improving a child’s social skills and ability to attend school.

“The published evidence lags way behind the enthusiasm,” Atkinson said in an email. “There is some evidence from two human trials that CBD may help reduce anxiety and negative self-talk in people with social phobia. There is some evidence that it may help with certain kinds of insomnia and conflicting evidence on whether it is effective in psychosis.”

Some physicians are already using cannabis medicine to treat patients. Sherry Yafai, an emergency medicine physician who is founder and director of Releaf Institute, a medical marijuana clinic in Santa Monica, treats patients for cancer, pain, insomnia, tremors, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety and multiple sclerosis. “My big gripe about this industry is we are allowing people who don’t have the expertise like I do or my colleagues do to advise people,” said Yafai, who credits licensed cannabis shops with at least lab-testing their products and following regulations that protect consumers. “The question about dosing is going to take into consideration, what else are you taking?  I am going to ask you 50 questions. You know, it really is a challenge because we have people who don’t know any better.”

So for now, when it comes to grabbing hemp-derived CBD ingestible products off the shelf at a health food store or ordering them online, it is buyer beware. Bonn-Miller advises consumers to buy from reputable sources or have the products tested yourself in an independent lab, adding cost. To be sure, a great many hemp-derived  tinctures are from locally based companies with compelling inception stories rooted in a desire to help an epileptic child, grandmother or cancer-stricken mother, and to avoid sometimes horrific side effects of pharmaceutical medications.

These admirable product narratives are compelling, moving and relatable. Still, consumers should be mindful that for now, when buying hemp-derived CBD tinctures, gel pills and salves, they are accepting product labeling at face value. Proceed with caution. Or head to a licensed cannabis store for tested and vetted CBD products.

A Hemet woman with a severe form of breast cancer gets a surprising new lease on life at City of Hope

City of Hope has lived up to its name for breast cancer patient Linda Collins. When the Hemet resident visited Duarte’s comprehensive cancer center for a second opinion, she had no idea that she was literally saving — or at least extending — her own life. “The treatment my regular oncologist planned for me would have been totally ineffective and useless,” she says. “It might even have killed me.”

Collins, 57, arrived at City of Hope a little over a year ago with a diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic triple-negative breast cancer and a prognosis of about one year to live. She met with oncologist Yuan Yuan, M.D., Ph.D., who took over her care and then designed a clinical trial for women with triple-negative status, one of the most difficult types of breast cancer to treat. After a year of treatment with Yuan’s innovative combination of drugs, Collins has become what City of Hope calls “the first success story” for women with her type of disease. Instead of feeling like she’s at death’s door, she says she feels good. Her cancer is now almost undetectable.

“I still can’t believe it,” Collins says. “I haven’t quite absorbed it yet. It’s just too wonderful and I feel very humble.” But she’s also realistic. “There is no cure yet for metastatic breast cancer, which is what I have,” she adds. “Dr. Yuan has explained it all to me. She’s amazing.”

In 2011, Collins was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. “The chemo was very strong for this type of cancer,” and it was devastating, Collins says. Her hair, eyelashes and nails fell out, she lost 60 pounds and she felt sick much of the time. But the chemo worked. She remained cancer-free for the next five years, after which she had to start with a new oncologist due to a change in her insurance plan.

“He continued to monitor me with mammograms and blood tests, and all tests came back clear,” she recalls. She was just beginning to relax and enjoy her cancer-free status when she detected pain in her lower back. Her oncologist kept saying it had nothing to do with cancer, because all his tests proved she was okay. But the pain persisted — and so did she. “He was about to send me home yet again because my blood tests and mammogram were still clear. But I told him, ‘You say I’m okay, but I don’t feel okay. I need you to do something.’ So he finally ordered a scan.”

The scan showed she had three masses in her chest, which were then biopsied. “It was breast cancer that had metastasized and spread,” Collins says. Her oncologist set her up with a treatment plan that consisted of the same kind of chemotherapy she’d had before. She was terrified to go through that again, but saw no options. Then her niece, a physician’s assistant, urged her to get a second opinion at City of Hope, where, the niece said, all sorts of new targeted therapies were being tried, some of which might not even require chemotherapy.

Once under Yuan’s care at City of Hope, Collins learned that the treatment her prior oncologist had prescribed for her was based on a false assumption: that her metastasized cancer was the same type of cancer she’d originally been treated for, which is called ER positive. If he’d done the needed tests, Collins says, he’d have found that her new cancer was a different type, called triple-negative. It would not have responded at all to the treatment he proposed.

But even had he done all the right tests and treatments, he probably still wouldn’t have been able to do much for her. Triple-negative breast cancer is a less common form of the disease, and there’s been little success treating it, says Yuan. “The prognosis is 12 to 18 months,” she notes.

We asked Yuan how she decided to create Collins’ clinical trial. “Breast cancer is such a common disease and affects so many people’s lives,” Yuan says. “Early stage breast cancer, thanks to all the previous research and medicines, is largely curable and treatable. But every day we face folks who come to us with so-called metastatic or noncurable disease. It has metastasized to elsewhere and creates a limited life span. So that’s where our passion is. We want to bring more novel treatment to help these women and one day cure them, just as nowadays we’re curing lymphoma and leukemia. But so far, we haven’t cured a lot of solid tumors.”

Is metastatic breast cancer considered a solid tumor?

“Yes, it can be melanoma, lung, brain, colon or other kinds of cancer. With metastatic cancer, the cancer is there, but it’s probably microscopic disease that we can’t diagnose” until it shows up as a solid tumor, Yuan says. In Collins’ case, she explains, extensive testing revealed not only the bad news — that her patient was triple-
negative for all three hormone receptors and therefore not a candidate for targeted therapy — but also a smidgen of possible good news: Collins tested positive for
androgen receptors, which are cells that respond to the male hormone.

There is a drug for prostate cancer in men that targets androgen, Yuan explains. That drug had already been tried in studies of triple-negative breast cancer patients like Collins, but with limited success. Yuan wanted to try it again, this time combined with state-of-the-art immunotherapy drugs that boost the patient’s immune system and had recently become available. “I applied to Merck, which got FDA approval for Keytruda in 2016, and we got Merck to sponsor this study which combines an androgen-receptor modulator with new immunotherapy.”

Collins was enrolled in the trial, along with a number of other women with the same cancer profile, but she was the one with what Yuan calls “the most durable result.”  Of 15 patients currently in the trial, there have been four or five “responders,” Yuan says, meaning women who have benefited to some degree from the drugs.

Collins’ result has been the longest lasting and is “very positive, but it’s too soon to declare anything,” Yuan says. “We can say she has good cancer control with the current regimen, and she continues treatment.” And bear in mind, Yuan adds, that the regimen Collins is on is appropriate for only 10 percent of triple-negative breast cancer patients — those with androgen receptors. So this trial is for just a small subset of triple-negative cases.

For those who’ve wondered why, after all these decades of research, there’s still no cure for cancer, it becomes clear from talking to Yuan that cancer is not just one disease — it’s many different diseases, each of which has different subsets with characteristics that respond to different therapies.

Collins says she feels good while taking the medication recipe prescribed by Yuan. Unlike chemotherapy, the drugs have had few side effects, she says. She has a port implanted, and goes to City of Hope every three weeks for an infusion of Keytruda; she also takes six androgen-targeting pills each day at home.

Yuan says she currently has six or seven trials focused on metastatic breast cancer, using various immunotherapy drugs in conjunction with targeted therapy drugs. Innovation in treating breast cancer is generally moving away from chemotherapy, toward newer therapies that kill cancer cells specifically and have fewer side effects. Other research doctors at City of Hope are also conducting many such trials in a hunt for cures for numerous kinds of cancer. One of many she mentions is the prominent City of Hope professor and surgery department chairman, Dr. Yuman Fong, who is conducting “the very first human study using an attractive new tool called ‘oncolytic virus,’ also known as the virus that eats cancer.”

For those of us not familiar with medical lingo, we asked Yuan to explain targeted therapy. “There are many drivers that cause the cancer to continue growing. Cancer cells are unique, because they don’t know how to die. Some of the molecules are constantly turned on, or mutated or amplified. They’re constantly active. Targeted therapy is designed specifically to alter those particular cells, whereas chemotherapy is very broad.  It kills healthy cells as well as cancer cells.

“Later on, those cancer cells learn how to become resistant to the chemotherapy, and they revive, so that will not be the answer. One of the target therapies we’re now using is immunotherapy, which can be pills or I.V. injections. But it’s not like conventional chemo; it doesn’t cause hair loss, nausea, etc.”

Yuan says the idea behind immunotherapy is that people without cancer have healthy immune systems that can detect cancer cells and kill them before they form a tumor. It’s all very complex to describe, she explains, but a number of immunotherapies are being tested that will help strengthen the immune system and prevent healthy cells from being hijacked by cancer cells. One therapy involves removing tumor cells, re-engineering them and returning them to the patient. “We put them in a petri dish, treat them to change the property of the cells, then infuse them back into the patient so they are able to function.”

Collins, who teaches art and music to elementary school children in Hemet, is the married mother of three grown children who’ve “been very helpful to me throughout my illness. One of my daughters really battled with my health insurance to get approval for me to go to City of Hope, which the insurance at first denied.”

We asked Yuan if patients and their insurance are required to pay for clinical trials, or if the trial host pays. “Nowadays, it’s a kind of hybrid model, because patient costs for a clinical trial are extremely high,” she says. “The most common model is that insurance pays for standard care, for example, doctor’s visits, standard blood draws and standard imaging, such as CTs and bone scans. The study pays for all the stuff that normally wouldn’t be standard care. That includes the study drugs, the study nursing time and all the specific biopsies, special imaging, special blood tests and other items that are required for the study but wouldn’t normally be done for standard care. For example, we collect stool samples for the study because there’s interesting data showing that our gut bacteria actually may determine if we are responding to immunotherapy or not. So we do a lot of types of special studies that patients do not pay for.”

Yuan is married to Kuo-Sheng Ma, Ph.D, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Loyola Marymount University. They live in South Pasadena and have two daughters, ages 6 and 9.

Does she think that within her lifetime there will be cures for metastatic breast cancers? Or if not cures, then therapies that will allow women to live relatively normal lives while keeping the cancer under control?

“Absolutely, I think so. There’s lots of hope. If you look back over the past few years, changes are incremental, but they are happening and there’s been lots of recent progress. It’s now a speeding train, and it will get faster and faster, with more new drugs all the time. Of course, if you have a friend who’s sick now and can’t get helped, it is so sad.” She sees that every day, she says, and that’s what the doctors at City of Hope are trying to change.

The holidays may be over, but that’s no excuse to stop celebrating

Sometimes, after the holidays, I feel a little low. The build-up to the new year gets so hectic that when it’s all over, it’s not uncommon for me to experience a little post-season funk. Having just spent the last month cooking and decorating and entertaining, I need something to look forward to. While searching around for a reason to get excited, I was reminded that nearly every day of the year is a national holiday! Or rather, a National Day. 

There is no federal committee declaring National Days. In fact, there is no official way to get a National Day. You can simply decide to start celebrating something. The key is getting your day to catch on. That’s what friends John Baur and Mark Summers did, after they decided talking like a pirate was super fun and cool. They shared their Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19) idea with humorist Dave Barry, who wrote about it in his syndicated column. Now, all the cool kids talk like a pirate that day.

There are, however, some private enterprises that recognize and publish National Days in a semi-official capacity. Chase’s Calendar of Events is considered the definitive guide to National Days. This almanac was founded in 1957 by two brothers, one of whom was a librarian looking in vain for a single comprehensive listing of annual observances. When none could be found, they created their own. The first Chase Calendar (for 1958) had 364 entries. Today there are 12,500. Also included are special weeks and months as listed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chase Calendar receives 10,000 requests annually for new national days, from which they select about 20. (The most popular request is a day named after really great girlfriends.)

There is also a National Day Calendar, which began publishing in 2013. This group selects 30 new days annually from nearly 20,000 applications. They currently track about 1,500 National Days. If you think the National Day idea has gotten a little crazy, you’d be correct. (Hence, National Crazy Day, Oct. 24.)

What I like best about National Days is that there is always something to celebrate, and you can find a day to celebrate pretty much everything — Kazoo Day, Heimlich Maneuver Day, Harvey Wallbanger Day, Multiple Personality Day, Proofreading Day, Bowling League Day, Mud Pack Day, Clerihew Day (a Clerihew is a funny biographical rhyming poem; e.g. “Sir Humphry Davy, Abominated gravy, He lived in the odium, Of having discovered sodium”).

Of course, as a former chef, I particularly enjoy the food days. What a joy to discover that everything I love has a day — anchovies (Nov. 12), pecan pie (July 12), eggs Benedict (April 16), coffee (Sept. 29). This first month of the year has some doozies, including marzipan (Jan. 12), granola bars (Jan. 21) and croissants (Jan. 30). But the best is Jan. 2: National Cream Puff Day! It is my hope that everyone will partake of a little cream puff action, and to encourage this, I offer you my best pâte à choux recipe. Make a batch for you and yours, and rest easy knowing the holidays are not over, after all. There is so much celebrating still to do!

Cream Puffs

You don’t actually need a National Day to enjoy these puffs, but it certainly helps with your justification. (The rumor that puffs eaten on their national day are calorie-free has not been authoritatively confirmed.)

Makes about 1 dozen large puffs

2 cups water

5 ounces unsalted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

  cup all-purpose flour  

7 eggs    

1 extra egg

Sweetened whipped cream

Chocolate sauce

Powdered sugar


1. Combine water, butter, sugar and salt in a large saucepan and bring it to a boil. At the boil, add the flour and stir for 3 minutes over high heat. (This is going to be hard, so just tough it out. Three minutes is crucial, or the flour will not be properly absorbed, the gluten in the flour will not be activated and your puffs will not puff.) The mixture should resemble mashed potatoes when ready. (It’s best not to use wooden spoons — they have a tendency to snap in half during this step. Use metal.)

2. Remove from the heat, cool slightly (about 5 minutes), then add the eggs, one at a time. (I always do this by hand. It is hard, but worth it. Some chefs take it to a mixer for this step, but I find that the mixer overworks the dough and makes it a bit runny, which makes it hard to shape your puffs. Mixing by hand yields better product and puts you [or at least me] into a zen-like oneness with the cooking process.) It’s okay to rest for a minute in between eggs if you must.

3. Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Use an ice cream scooper, or two teaspoons, and scoop large-walnut-size pieces of dough onto the prepared pan, about an inch apart. Fill up the whole pan. You’ll probably need to make several oven batches. Whisk up the extra egg with a pinch of salt and brush it lightly over the puffs, then pop them into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake another 5 to 10 minutes. They should be dark golden brown, firm and well-risen. If they aren’t, reduce the heat to 350° and continue to bake until they look done. If they are not golden and firm, they will deflate once cooled. Repeat with the remaining dough.

4. When cool, cut the puffs in half horizontally, and fill the bottoms with sweetened whipped cream. (Try it using pastry cream or chocolate mousse too!) Replace the top halves, drizzle with chocolate sauce and dust with powdered sugar.

Unfilled puffs freeze really well, and will last for several weeks. To refresh, simply reheat in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

P.S. Filled with ice cream, these puffs become profiteroles. When piped 2 to 3 inches long, they become éclairs. Filled and piled into a pyramid they become a croquembouche. You can even use this same recipe to make gougères, my favorite savory cheese puffs. Fold in a cup of grated Gruyère cheese and a couple of tablespoons of chopped chives just before baking. Sadly, gougères don’t have a National Day…yet!

The functional fitness workout method strengthens your ability to accomplish everyday tasks

On an early Sunday morning, the blaring horns from the “Rocky Theme” echo off the gym walls at Function and Fitness in La Crescenta. My workout buddies and I stop chatting as our effervescent coach Jessica Rose hollers a long “Woooohooo,” while raising her arms and racing around the room. Grab your water bottles, folks. The Sunday sweat session has officially begun.

Class participants of all ages, sizes and athletic abilities gather around Coach Jess as she demonstrates the morning’s exercises. There are side lunges. Kettlebell swings. Squatting with sand bags. Chest presses with the TRX Suspension Trainer. The dreaded burpee. We hear a rendition of her silly “Hinge Song” reminding us about proper form. Demonstrating a plank pose, she admonishes us that, “Even though we are on Honolulu Avenue, this is no time to do the hula. Keep those hips up!”

Finally armed with our workout regimen, Coach Jess leads us in a warm-up before beginning a 45-minute routine specifically crafted to target common movements and muscle groups that assist us in our daily lives. It’s sweaty, exhausting, challenging and, yes, I’ll admit it, fun.

The motto “Train Movements, Not Muscles” is displayed on the wall, a subtle reminder that this place — like a growing number of fitness facilities — embraces a functional fitness training concept that doesn’t promise you six-pack abs or deeply chiseled biceps. Your reward is being able to easily master a flight of steps, effortlessly squat down to pick up a dropped iPhone and comfortably place your carry-on luggage in the overhead bin.

Indeed, functional fitness has hit the mainstream. Self magazine calls it one of the “Ten Biggest Fitness Trends of 2018,” but many coaches, devotees and others in the fitness industry say this workout method has been around for years — there’s just a new light shining on it.

Maybe the heightened attention comes from aging Baby Boomers who want to stay in shape but don’t strive to be super hard-core athletes. According to the Mayo Clinic, “This type of training, properly applied, can make everyday activities easier, reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life…. [It can help] older adults improve balance, agility and muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.”

According to Christine Clark, owner of Function and Fitness, there are six main functional movements that are usually incorporated into her facility’s workouts: squats, lunges, rotations, hip hinging, pushing and pressing. “What we do is teach basic patterns of movements because every day we push, every day we pull, every day we lunge, hinge and squat. Our hope is that you take the stuff you learn here and apply it outside — at work, at home, the store, wherever — so you can stay healthy and safe.” Clark explains that the idea is to prevent the type of injuries most people suffer, usually from doing something as mundane as putting groceries in the car. “People typically throw out their backs because they haven’t strengthened those rotational movements,” she adds.

Today, all of Clark’s exercise classes are led by coaches who supervise the carefully programmed weekly small and large group sessions that build upon the prior week.

Clark started her fitness career as an instructor at a big-box gym and then met clients in rental spaces until she opened up this workout facility in 2014. At fitness conferences, she sees new expensive equipment for sale and crazy workout techniques. “But you won’t see any of them the next year because they didn’t catch on. You know what works? Good old-fashioned dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance training.”

Indeed, the power of functional training is vital as we age, contends Tom Strafaci, owner of Functional Fitness, which has locations in Monrovia and Arcadia. Most of Strafaci’s clients are older — and many come to the facility “fearful of movement,” he says. “Often simple things, like climbing stairways, getting into a car or using the toilet can be difficult for older people,” he says. Strafaci and his coaching staff train one-on-one for a more personalized exercise session. They know their clients’ backstories; many have diabetes or knee replacements or a history of heart attacks and strokes.

“Sometimes a good workout that day doesn’t mean sweating like crazy,” he says of his individualized approach. “Maybe it’s a series of eye drills to help with balance because that function is way off that day. We meet clients where they are at that moment. Our goal is to train clients so they can maintain their independence.”

With more than 34 years in the world of fitness (including a previous career as a physical therapist), Strafaci has seen many fads come and go, but he’s excited about one of the industry’s newest trends. “It’s not a piece of equipment,” he explains. “It’s better-educated trainers who have college degrees and know what is really important. We now better understand the body and how it moves and ages — and we know how best to keep it working.”

Enter a cozy workout space on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock and you will see the customary weight rack, stability balls and balance boards — as well as numerous oversized hooks placed on walls at different heights. This is where class participants attach the resistance tubing that is a hallmark of The Dynamic Advantage boutique fitness center. The mini watering-hose-like tubing comes in six colors indicating levels of resistance from three to 90 pounds which, when combined with other functional movements, can challenge pros as well as novices.

One afternoon, Coach Marlene Maroun-Flowers leads a small group through a series of fast-paced but carefully timed exercise sets. After warming up and working with hand weights, participants fasten colored tubing at various heights for specific exercises with whimsical names like “the power bar” or “coffee cup row.” “Bow down and keep your chest up high!” exclaims Coach Marlene.

The tubing is “versatile, safe, efficient and effective. It allows people to train in a way that gives them a multitude of options without a lot of excessive gear,” says Brandon Flowers, who owns the studio with fitness partner Rick Caputo. The duo has been training clients since the 1990s; they capitalized on their love of fitness when both were laid off from their corporate gigs — Caputo in aerospace and Flowers from insurance. After receiving certification, the two trained clients in their homes and rented spaces before opening a studio in Eagle Rock in 2001; they moved to their current location in 2012.

Understanding and strengthening the biomechanics of movement is at the heart of the workouts. The two stress the concept of micro-progressions — that is, encouraging clients to intensify their workouts at a slow but steady pace. “What we do here is focus on correct movements that strengthen muscle, posture and balance,” says Caputo.

A client’s age and ability may influence the intensity of the move but, as Flowers says, “No matter what condition you have — injury, illness — your elbow is your elbow. Your knee is your knee. They all do the same function. At the beginning, we give clients the proper dosage of exercise and they slowly creep up with ability and confidence.”

Dynamic Advantage opened with only one workout session a week; now 24 sessions are offered at their main location, and other weekly classes are held at the Cancer Support Community Pasadena and onsite at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The mix of exercises is excellent and uses the whole body,” says Mike Kleine, an acquisition advisor at JPL who has been participating in the Dynamic Advantage sessions at the space-research facility for nine years.

An avid fitness nut, Kleine says functional training complements his other activities — Pilates, cycling, skiing, hiking, kayaking and running. People often mistake him for a much younger man (he’s 69), and he credits that to spending more time moving. “I don’t take the shuttle around the JPL campus, I walk,” he says. Like many, Kleine wants his fitness to propel him into the future. “I’ve seen so many young vibrant people bent over, heavy with weight and with poor posture. It’s painful to see,” he adds. “When I’m older, I want to hike the landscape, not see it from a tour bus.”

Flowers says that’s the highest compliment he or anyone in the fitness industry can hear from clients who embrace functional fitness. “We have a lot of people who are in their 70s and 80s and who travel a lot — and they are able to do that because of their fitness levels,” he says. “They are out there living their lives and that is huge. We keep telling everyone that the road to fitness really has no finish line. You are on
it for life.”

The Jamestown Settlement tells long-lost tales of diverse women — and much more — in colonial America

The role of women in early American history is being re-examined in a new exhibition at the Jamestown Settlement museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. Through documents, artifacts and interpretative text, Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia (through Jan. 5, 2020) is part of a movement by many cultural institutions to take a broader and more inclusive look at history, one that tries to encompass the participation of women, American Indians and African Americans.

Take the case of Pocahontas, the only woman from that period whose name most of us know — a museum display tells us how important she was, yet we also realize how little we know about her. That account by colonist John Smith about her saving his head from the chopping block? Probably just yarn-spinning on his part. And no, she did not marry Smith, as the Disney cartoon tells us; she married a tobacco planter named John Rolfe. Unfortunately, she left no firsthand accounts of her life and times.

For history buffs — or those who like to combine education with their vacay — this part of Tidewater Virginia offers a bounty: Three major sites of early American history are contained on one peninsula, bounded by the York River on one side and the James River on the other. Together they make up the Historic Triangle — Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg, named one of the top 15 U.S. cities in Travel +Leisure’s 2017 World’s Best Awards. First came Jamestown, named after King James I, who in 1606 granted a charter to the Virginia Company to found a colony on North American land claimed by the crown. After its three ships landed at Cape Henry in 1607, Jamestown became the first permanent English colony in North America. After Jamestown, the capital of the Virginia Colony moved a few miles inland to Williamsburg from 1699 to 1780; the 18th-century capital was resurrected into a full-scale historical restoration in the early-to-mid 20th century, thanks to the Reverend Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin of Bruton Parish Church and his benefactors John D. and Abby Aldrich Rockeller. Not far away, Yorktown was the site of the final great battle of the American Revolutionary War, when the Continental Army forced the surrender of General Charles Cornwallis and his Redcoats in 1781.

The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation runs two of the important museums here — Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown — and both have family-friendly galleries filled with fascinating documents, maps, artifacts and videos. The new show, Tenacity, is at Jamestown Settlement, and it highlights the roles of English, Native American and African women with illustrations, text and 60 artifacts, many borrowed from other institutions.

The native population initially had fairly harmonious relations with the new English settlers. Pocahontas was the favorite daughter of Powhatan, the chief who oversaw about 30 tribes in the area. Her story has a prominent place in the permanent galleries, which are being revamped, as well as at the museum at Historic Jamestowne, which is on the original site run by the National Park Service. (More about that later.) Much of what we know is probably myth — John Smith, one of Jamestown’s first colonists, didn’t write about Pocahantas “saving” him until after he left the colonies. However, historians agree that she served as an important emissary between the colonists and her people — a display at the Historic Jamestowne museum calls her “Mother of Two Nations.”   

Her participation didn’t come about willingly. In 1613 she was kidnapped by the English during the first Anglo-Powhatan War, and during that time she learned English and was converted to Christianity.  She later married tobacco planter John Rolfe,  an alliance that contributed to many years of peace between Indians and colonists. A Jamestown Settlement museum display features various depictions of Pocahontas, mostly done after her death and highly imaginative. One painting is based on the only portrait made during her lifetime — Simon van de Passe’s 1616 engraving of Pocahontas, whose English name was Rebecca, splendidly dressed in a tall hat and Jacobean court attire with a semi-circular lace collar. The portrait was commissioned by the Virginia Company as propaganda for the colony, after having brought her and her husband to England in 1616. Pocahontas was reportedly treated like royalty, especially since she must have been quite a surprise to the English, who thought all Indians were uneducated savages.

Tenacity covers some other, lesser-known stories, including three that are highlighted. One concerns Anne Burras Laydon, who arrived in 1608 at age 14 as a maidservant, only one of two women on that second voyage (there were none in the first).  Another tells the story of Cockacoeske, an Indian woman called “Queen of the Pamunkey,” who ruled the tribe until her death in 1686. There’s also Mary Johnson, an African woman who arrived in 1623, working on a Southside Virginia plantation until she was able to gain her freedom and her own plot of land. Artifacts include the clothing they might have worn, household items they might have used and a page from the records of the Virginia Company (known as the Ferrar Papers), borrowed from Magdelene College, Cambridge, which lists the brave women who came over
in 1621.

Like the 90 women who’d arrived the previous year, these 56 women were purposely recruited to become wives and helpmates for the Jamestown men. While the page is faded, one can read the full list on a nearby interactive screen, which includes each woman’s age, parentage and references.  For example, on the ship the Marmaduke came Allice Burges, “Age 28 borne at Linton in Cambridgeshire her father and Mother are dead, hee was a husbandman.”

One outstanding feature of both Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum (ARM) are the outdoor “living history experiences.”  The former includes a full-scale reproduction of the original Jamestown fort, which was actually rather small, and the primary buildings within. Actors play the parts of soldiers, blacksmith, etc., and relay the story of the buildings and their work roles. ARM has recreated part of a Continental Army encampment, and one can witness an actual cannon being loaded and fired (into the woods, fortunately) — a multi-step procedure that involves three soldiers and an officer to bark out the commands. The encampment is worth as much time as the museum, as costumed actors demonstrate and explain how an army on the march would function.

The cook, for example, stands in a circular trench where stoves have been built into the earth. During my visit, the “cook” tells us, “Soldiers were given daily rations, including a portion of meat, hardtack, dried beans.” She shows us a sample of hardtack: a thick, unappetizing-looking biscuit that was easy to carry and long-lasting. “You can imagine how difficult this was to eat — soldiers might soak the hardtack in water or stew to soften it.” The medical tent displays a sample doctor’s kit with metal tools, and the “doctor” tells us about medical treatment on the battlefield — fast and crude. Further along is a Revolution-era farm based on the farm of Edward Moss
(c. 1757–1786), where interpreters describe agricultural and domestic life in those times.  Although not a landowner, Moss leased 200 acres and owned six slaves to help him work them — a grim reminder that slavery quickly became an institution in early America.

While in the area, be sure to visit Historic Jamestowne, the actual site of the first settlement, excavated and run by the National Park Service. The perimeters of the triangular fort are marked by posts, and you can see how it was situated right by the James River. You will also walk through some swampy areas that illustrate why many early settlers fell sick and died soon after they arrived — the location chosen was far from ideal for human habitation.

Buildings were eventually erected outside the fort, and they can still be seen as ruins and outlines as you walk around the park; only the small Memorial Church next to the fort has been rebuilt. Don’t miss the Voorhees Archaearium Archeology Museum where the excavated objects have been collected and displayed with excellent explanations.

Life in early Jamestown was hard, very hard — especially during one period when the English were at war with Powhatan and settlers were so starved and desperate they succumbed to cannibalism, evidence suggests. The museum is frank about the troubled relationship between the English and the Native Americans. While at first Powhatan seemed welcoming and traded goods, he must have eventually realized these foreigners were not going away. A tour through the actual landscape brings all this history alive in a most compelling way.

Jamestown Settlement is located at 2110 Jamestown Rd., Williamsburg, VA. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until June 15 through Aug. 15, when it closes at 6 p.m. (Closed Christmas and New Year’s.) Admission costs $17.50, $8.25 for visitors 6 to 12; children under 6 are admitted free. A combination ticket that also includes the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown costs $26, $12.50 for 6 to 12. Visit

John Wayne found his nickname and love of acting growing up in Glendale.

Like many boys, young John Wayne had a dog, a big Airedale terrier named Duke. He took Duke everywhere, including the Glendale fire station on the way to school. The firefighters started calling Wayne, whose real name was Marion Morrison, “Little Duke,” since the dog was bigger than the boy. The name stuck, and so did Glendale’s imprint on his youth.

“People see John Wayne as this larger-than-life character, but he was really just this little kid, Duke Morrison from Glendale,” says local historian Michael Morgan. Morgan sits on the Glendale Historic Preservation Commission and has lectured on John Wayne’s legacy in Glendale.

John Wayne was born May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa, but his family soon moved to Palmdale, California, where his druggist father decided to try his hand at ranching, an ill-fated endeavor that failed within two years. During that period, the family would visit Glendale on Sundays, mainly at the urging of Wayne’s mother who preferred the city to Palmdale because of its large population of former Iowans. So in 1915, when Little Duke was 9 years old, his family resettled in Glendale. His father again found work as a pharmacist, while Wayne attended Woodrow Wilson Middle School (formerly called the Third Street Intermediate School when it opened its doors in 1911).

But the Waynes remained transient, moving 10 times around Glendale between 1915 and 1925 because money was tight, according to Morgan. Yet it was also an “optimistic time,” he notes. The city was growing exponentially, creating more opportunities, and Wayne’s father even had his own pharmacy, Baird and Morrison; the younger Wayne would often make deliveries for his dad on his bike. In 1915 there were some 12,000 people in Glendale. By the end of 1920 there were 30,000. Despite the constant uprooting, the popular Wayne always did well in school and avoided trouble.

At Glendale Union High School, Wayne performed well in both academics and sports, particularly football — the latter not surprising, given his 6-foot, 4-inch frame. Wayne was on his high school debate team, served as president of the Latin Society and contributed to the school newspaper’s sports column. The energetic Wayne also served as senior class president and chairperson of the senior dance and he performed in several plays. The youth was so active that he is pictured half a dozen times in his 1925 student yearbook. Yet only one pursuit determined his life’s work. As Wayne’s son Ethan Wayne told the Los Angeles Times in 2014, Glendale High was “where his path in drama really started.” Wayne was also part of the school’s football team when it won the 1924 league championship. On graduating, Wayne applied to the U.S. Naval Academy but wasn’t accepted. So he attended USC, majoring in pre-law and playing on its football team. But a broken collarbone from a bodysurfing mishap changed his course. He lost his athletic scholarship and left USC.

But that’s when Hollywood found him, first as a prop man in films, and then as a stand-in at Fox Film Corporation, before legendary director John Ford cast him in a small but pivotal part in the forgettable 1928 film Mother Machree.

Curiously, hardly anyone knows that John Wayne spent his youth in Glendale. There are no streets named after him, no plaques or memorials, only one building (more on that later). In 2008, when a 21-foot-tall bronze statue of Wayne on a horse needed to be moved from Beverly Hills, Morgan petitioned the Glendale City Council to relocate it in Glendale — but nada. “There was no political will,” Morgan says. Instead, Newport Beach, where Wayne lived as an adult, acquired the nearly six-ton monument. In June 1979 the Orange County Board of Supervisors renamed the Orange County Airport John Wayne Airport, but it wasn’t until 2014 that Glendale’s most famous resident gained even the slightest recognition locally. Glendale High’s 1,559-seat auditorium was crowned the John Wayne Performing Arts Center. “I think it’s really nice,” Ethan Wayne told the L.A. Times. “Dad liked learning, he liked sports, he liked activities.” So, why a veritable void of acknowledgment? “A lot of people have no institutional memory of Glendale,” Morgan tells Arroyo Monthly. He points out the disconnect between an American hero like John Wayne and Glendale’s large Armenian community, which succeeded him. Part of Wayne’s absence was also political. The Vietnam War was a defining issue for a generation and Wayne, a staunch conservative and friend of Ronald Reagan’s, riled many to his left. “Regardless, he’s Mom, Dad and apple pie,” Morgan says of Wayne’s wholesome, independent spirit.

“I’ve always followed my father’s advice,” Wayne once said. “He told me, first, to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble.” But trouble did find John Wayne. During the last 15 years of his life, he fought various battles with cancer — he was a smoker — and in 1965 underwent surgery for lung cancer. But it was a form of stomach cancer that stopped the Duke in his tracks. He died from complications in June 1979. Just a month before his death, he made his last public appearance at the 51st Academy Awards ceremony where he handed out the Oscar for Best Picture. The Music Center audience erupted into a standing ovation. “That’s just about the only medicine a fellow would ever need,” Wayne told the crowd.

But love and admiration go only so far; time dissolves memories, the strong become weak. These days, kids at Glendale High School may have to Google John Wayne because they don’t know who he was or why a building has his name on it. Yet the city’s memory of Duke lives on. Says Morgan: “John Wayne embodies all the good things about Glendale.”

From its Pasadena office, China’s Alibaba Pictures is quietly making incursions into Hollywood.

Alibaba Pictures, somewhat hidden in the Pasadena Playhouse Plaza, presents itself with a modesty at odds with Tinseltown’s tendency for hyperbole. In fact, relatively little fanfare accompanied the arrival of this film unit of China’s multinational technology behemoth, Alibaba Group (ranked among the world’s 10 most valuable and successful brands by the brand equity database BrandZ for the first time this year). Alibaba Pictures opened up shop in a 22,000-square-foot office in Pasadena in 2016. 

Since its landing in metro Hollywood, Alibaba Pictures has been working on a handful of deals, investing in a few film productions and distributions, and keeping, at least by in-your-face American standards, a rather low profile. The Pasadena office didn’t respond to interview requests.

But in an interview with Pasadena-based East West Bank, Alibaba Pictures President Wei Zhang describes the client company’s mission here. “We see ourselves as a platform company,” she said. “Our goal in entertainment is not just to make a few movies. We’re not here to create another traditional movie studio…We are a new movie infrastructure company with Internet DNA; we use technology, data and our ecosystem to bring more efficiency and transparency to the filmmaking process.” Zhang describes her goal as growing Alibaba’s role as a gateway between Hollywood and China by developing appropriate content for Chinese movie audiences. And those audiences are expected to grow into the world’s largest, in light of China’s 1.4 billion population. Alibaba Pictures’ parent company has been reshaping the Chinese entertainment industry with an aggressive acquisition strategy since 2014.

Formed in 1999, Alibaba is the brainchild of one of China’s most beloved businessmen — Jack Ma. He’s been called the Steve Jobs of China because of his business savvy, his inspirational leadership and his intimate understanding of the American and Hollywood cultures. An e-commerce company at its core, Alibaba leverages entertainment ventures (film production investments, movie and live events ticketing apps, video-streaming platforms, mobile content browsers and others) to cross-promote interests in a multifaceted business ecosystem.

For example, Alibaba invested in Amblin Partner’s 2017 film A Dog’s Purpose (starring Dennis Quaid and Josh Gad) and helmed marketing the flick in China. Overall, the movie raked in only $64 million in the U.S., but it made $88 million in China with the help of Alibaba’s online movie ticketing app, Tao Piao Piao — in China more than 80 percent of movie tickets are bought online using apps.

From its Pasadena offices, Alibaba continues the Amblin partnership with the sequel, A Dog’s Journey, slated for a May 2019 release. Alibaba’s other successful movie investments include big-budget action flicks such as Dunkirk, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Star Trek Beyond and Mission Impossible — Fallout.

Earlier this year, Alibaba Pictures announced it was partnering with STX Entertainment on the Robert Zemeckis–produced Steel Soldiers, an original sci-fi action movie set in a futuristic world where humans and androids battle side-by-side. Also this year, Alibaba threw its hat into the ring with other studios (21st Century Fox, Disney, NBCUniversal, etc.) to fund Jeffrey Katzenberg’s streaming video startup, NewTV, which is creating short content for small screens.

For the younger set, Alibaba is producing a full-length adaption of the hit children’s TV series Peppa Pig, based on a beloved series of animated characters that premiered in the U.K. in 2004. (The movie will be a combination of animation and live action.)  It’s scheduled to be released during Chinese New Year 2019, which will usher in the Year of (what else?) the Pig.

So what can we make of this Chinese entertainment company that invests in American big-action films, heartwarming family flicks and charming children’s fare?

“I predict that Alibaba will be a good neighbor and a good company in the Southland, but I don’t think it will be a game-changer for the Southland,” says Tom Nunan, an international cinema expert, lecturer at UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television and partner in Bulls’ Eye Entertainment, a mid-size independent film and television production company.

Nunan remembers the ChinaHollywood lovefest of a few years ago that seized the imagination of producers, financiers and investors, eager to partner up with a new foreign market, foreign talent and foreign money. The hope was that such a move would herald development of a China-L.A. synergy, especially since Northern California — with its emerging technology in software and AI — has had a longstanding relationship with Beijing.

In 2015, leading Chinese investment and entertainment companies, such as Fosun International, LeTV, Dalian Wanda and, of course, Alibaba, were all going Hollywood; Wanda had just bought the AMC Theatre chain, and the STX production company was doing a deal with China’s Huayi Brothers Media Group. “All of us in entertainment had stars in our eyes, thinking, Wow! China’s investment in us will pump up the volume in Hollywood financially, content-wise, across the board,” Nunan continues. “We have all sobered up since then.”

Indeed, part of the sobering reality is that the Chinese government limits and restricts the type of entertainment that can be distributed. China doesn’t have a motion picture rating system; all films must be approved by Chinese censors who officially promote Confucian morality, political stability and social harmony. For all practical purposes, these are PG films — which are the least frequently produced films in Hollywood.

“Think of it this way: The Chinese government is acting the way the FCC acted in the ’70s,” explains Nunan. “They are really, really, really strict about the kind of content they want their citizenry to be exposed to. Also, don’t forget, there is no free Internet in China. Very few countries in the world restrict the freedom to surf the web. That’s not to say you can’t do business with China. There are opportunities, but it can be complicated.”

It addition to content, since 1994 Beijing has been restricting the number of American films that can be shown in Chinese theaters. The quota started at 10, increasing to 34 films per year in 2012 with the proviso that at least 14 be in 3D or IMAX format.

Of course, Hollywood would like to raise that quota, writes Michael Dresden at “But the on-again, off-again U.S.– China trade war has thrown those negotiations for a loop and effectively given China the ability to take whatever position it likes, from slapping a huge tariff on all U.S. films to conceding on all of Hollywood’s deal points,” Dresden writes. “But China is in no hurry to agree to anything. Why should it be? They’re fine with the status quo.”

Still, China’s Alibaba is here in the Southland to be a player, and it’s also a
resource for filmmakers and studios here, contends Nunan. Of course, setting up shop in Pasadena may have surprised many, considering that the prime entertainment hubs are in Burbank, Hollywood or the West Side. Says Nunan: “I think the strategy of the move was to announce that ‘We are a Chinese company. Most of the influential Chinese folk live right here in the Pasadena area and this is where we feel most comfortable.’ It’s wonderful that they are unabashedly embracing the neighborhood. Why shouldn’t Alibaba reward them by locating here? This is where their heartbeat is.” 

Pasadena chefs from around the world share their favorite festive recipes and traditions.

If you’re wondering what to whip up for your holiday get-together — and whether to cook from scratch or bring in precooked food — think about this: Some of the world’s great chefs, writers, philosophers and gourmets have weighed in over the years on the subject of home cooking. All seem to agree that the home-cooked offering has spirit and soul, an undefinable and mysterious essence that somehow transmits satisfaction to those who gather to eat it. And the very act of cooking is an act of giving, they say. Around the globe, in every culture and corner of the world, cooking is the ritual that causes people to gather, bond and enjoy. It doesn’t really matter whether the food is plain or fancy.

“The best meals occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself,” said the late celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, who also said that “food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s a start.”

So stop pondering and start planning something that will be very simple to prepare but delivers to guests a heartwarming, tasty gift from you — the preparer. Here in Arroyoland we have extraordinary access to foods from around the globe — from the profusion of small ethnic shops selling exotic spices and herbs to huge emporiums that offer gourmet delicacies. And we have an equally diverse and expandng array of dining spots headed by renowned chefs. We spoke to three who hail from different parts of the world to get their take on what holiday entertaining means in their culture, and what they like to serve. Surprisingly, many of them mentioned fish.


Prawn Coastal

Renowned American chef Mark Peel is a Pasadena native who has cooked for the one-percenters for much of his life. Starting with Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, he went on to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, then Tour d’Argent and Le Moulin de Mougins in France. Then he cofounded Los Angeles’ La Brea Bakery and the world-class, award-winning restaurant Campanile, where for about 25 years he helped redefine fine dining with an emphasis on farm-to-table fresh food.

Peel opened the seafood-centric Prawn Coastal in Pasadena about a year ago. It’s his concept of fine dining with a casual twist and approachable prices, and everything’s available for takeout. “It’s the biggest part of our business,” he says.

We caught up with Peel by phone while he was collecting his 9-year-old son from gymnastics class, and he was philosophical about holiday entertaining: “In a funny way, I think holiday parties or party eating is often not so much about food as it is about the company. With great people you could be eating cotton candy and tofu and it doesn’t really matter. In fact, it’s great to serve something very easy to prepare, so the host doesn’t have to spend much time and effort doing it.

“One of my favorite things is to get a whole filet of salmon, take the skin off and the pin bones out, and sear it. Then gently braise it in a little bit of vegetable broth. The fish will give the broth its own flavor. This doesn’t take long to do, it really doesn’t take much effort, and it’s a beautiful presentation.”

“What’s also really good is doing something like little soft tacos. Some pulled pork with assorted accompaniments like pickled onions, pickled cabbage and salsa. And some grated cheese, like a really good fontina. And diced tomatoes. One small benefit of global warming is that we get really good tomatoes right up to the end of the year. With something like tacos, the host doesn’t have to continually be cooking. You have the hot pulled pork, the warm steamed tortillas and maybe you butter them a bit, with a little bit of garlic. Just lay it all out and let the guests build their own. They can stand and hold the tacos while they converse.”

Peel says he remembers doing a birthday party years ago for the popular food critic and author Ruth Reichl. “There were all those famous folks and foodies, and I made just these little soft tacos with all the fixings and they were a very big success,” he recalls. “If you take something really simple and do it really, really well, you can’t beat it.”


This is based on a classic French matelote, a fish stew made with river fish (often eel) and red wine. We’ve done it at the restaurant with sturgeon, salmon and trout. Monkfish also works well. I think of the dish as a winter fish stew, with rich, complex flavors. It’s a convenient dish for entertaining because you can have everything prepared ahead of time, then cook the fish in the red wine sauce at the last moment. Instead of the fish stock, you can use half chicken broth and half water. Fish stock is preferable, but you can buy chicken broth at the store.


¼ pound bacon (about 4 strips), cut crosswise in ¼-inch strips

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

½ medium onion, sliced crosswise against the grain

Kosher salt

A bouquet garni made with a few sprigs each parsley and thyme, a bay leaf, 2 garlic cloves, (halved and green shoots removed) and 1½ teaspoons peppercorns

2 cups red wine, such as pinot noir

2 cups chicken stock or 1 cup canned
         broth and 1 cup water

8 pearl onions, blanched and peeled, or small spring onions (bulbs only)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 ounces wild mushrooms, cut in ½-inch-thick slices or separated into small clumps (depending on the type of mushroom)

Freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds sturgeon, monkfish, salmon or trout fillets

Minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish


1. Combine the bacon with the water in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring from time to time, until the bacon is lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for a minute, then add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the bouquet garni and the wine and bring to a boil, stirring the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. Add the stock (or broth and water), bring to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring often. Strain through a medium strainer and set aside

2. Meanwhile, make a small slit with a paring knife in the ends of the pearl or spring onions. Heat the butter in a wide, lidded skillet over medium heat and add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until beginning to color, 3 to 4 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir from time to time and add 1 tablespoon of water if the pan dries out and the vegetables begin to stick. Taste and adjust the salt. When tender, add the strained red wine sauce and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Taste the wine sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Remove from the heat if not serving right away. Shortly before serving, bring the sauce to a simmer. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and add to the sauce. They should be barely covered with the sauce. Cover and cook gently, being careful not to allow the sauce to boil, until cooked through but not falling apart, about 8 to 10 minutes for sturgeon or monkfish, 5 minutes for salmon, 3 minutes for trout fillets. Taste the sauce again and adjust the seasonings.

4. Remove the fish to a warm platter and spoon on some of the sauce with the onions and mushrooms over and around the fish. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve with boiled potatoes or fresh noodles.

Note: If serving with noodles (I recommend pappardelle or wide egg noodles), mound the cooked noodles on a large platter. Arrange the fish fillets on top of the noodles and spoon on a generous amount of sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Reprinted with permission from New Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel (Wiley; 2009).


Entre Nous

New on Pasadena’s culinary landscape is Entre Nous, which opened in October. It’s owned by chefs Mathias Wakrat and Jean-Christophe Febbrari. Both were born in small French Riviera towns not far from each other, but they didn’t meet until they came to Eagle Rock, where both worked in the kitchen of Cafe Beaujolais. They became best friends, eventually taking the Beaujolais over as owners, and for 20 years their successful French cafe served up what called “more genuine bistro charm than most of their better known Westside counterparts,” with the kind of “simple, unpretentious fare you’d find at a family-run bistro in Paris.”

We asked Mathias why they decided to open in Pasadena. “My partner, Jean-Christophe, has lived in Pasadena for 20 years with his wife and kids. So our families spent a lot of time there together. We never wanted a second restaurant location, but we always used to look at that particular spot on Green Street, where there was already a restaurant [Ración], and we used to say it would be a perfect place for a bistro like ours. Then it became available and we couldn’t resist. So we sold our shares in Beaujolais and made the move.”

Asked about his holiday food memories growing up in France and his thoughts on holiday cooking, he said, “Where we’re from, on the Riviera, is different from big cities like Paris or L.A. We come from small coastal villages, so everything has to have fish. There was no special holiday dish I remember growing up. We always ate bouillabaisse, even at the holidays. We grew up with that, we love it and we serve it as much as we can at Entre Nous. Of course it’s not exactly the same as in France because we don’t have the rockfish here that we have there. The fish we serve here depends on the daily catch. Whatever is the most fresh and highest quality at the market that day is what we put in our fish stew. We also had sea bass in France growing up. We serve that over lentils at Entre Nous, along with mussels and all sorts of other great regional dishes that are like those where we’re from. We have amazing escargots on the menu that we import directly from the Burgundy region.” Most popular so far in the restaurant’s short tenure, he says, is ribeye steak with peppercorn sauce and fries.

Is there something special he’d recommend for a small casual holiday dinner party? “Anything French,” he says with a chuckle. “You might try serving mussels and homemade French fries with a green salad afterward, which is when the French serve their salads. And perhaps a crème brûlée for dessert.”

Moules Provençales (Mussels)

Proportions are for one order


3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced shallots

2 ounces white wine

1 pound mussels

2 ounces heavy cream

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Freshly ground pepper

Sea salt


Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large sauté pan on high heat, then add shallots, white wine and mussels. Cover, and when the mussels start opening, add heavy cream, 2 tablespoons butter, parsley, pepper and a small pinch of sea salt. Cover again. When mussels are all open, remove them to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Reduce the liquid in the pan by one-third, taste for seasoning, pour liquid over mussels and sprinkle generously with more freshly chopped parsley. Enjoy with homemade French fries.


Bone Kettle

Chef Erwin Tjahyadi of Pasadena’s Bone Kettle restaurant was born in Indonesia and made his mark as a chef here by keeping Asian culinary traditions alive. “Being Asian, you’re always interested in assimilating both cultures, and the holidays are a time when it’s fun to do that,” he says. “In America, the traditional holiday dinner might be turkey or a great ham. To add an Asian touch, it’s all about incorporating spices and herbs that are indigenous to Southeast Asian cooking, although you’re using them on food that is not necessarily available in Southeast Asia. We actually don’t have much ham in Indonesia, for example. It’s a luxury item. But if you add sambal, which is Indonesian chili sauce, to turkey or ham, it’s a great way to introduce Southeast Asian flavor and also put a little heat into your dishes. You can also add sambal to batter or curry or sauces and use it with any meal as a condiment. It’s very versatile.

“At holiday season we love using yellow turmeric rice as a staple with all our savory meat dishes. It’s bright yellow, has a beautiful aroma and is distinctive in taste. And it’s easy to make at home. You can shape it into a beautiful cone, something like a Christmas tree.

“We also love to infuse pandan essence into our desserts and baked goods. Pandan is a leaf that grows in Southeast Asia. It adds a beautiful green flavor that’s unique, naturally sweet, fragrant and delicious — just right for baking at the holidays. For dessert, maybe a jackfruit eggroll served with banana pudding for dipping.”

We’re lucky there are so many Asian groceries nearby where all these things are available, Tjahyadi notes, making it easy for anyone who loves Asian flavors to try adding them to holiday dishes.

TURON (Fried banana rolls)


12 bananas, sliced

2 ripe jackfruit

1½ cups brown sugar

12 pieces spring roll wrapper

2 cups cooking oil

Powdered sugar


1. Pour the brown sugar onto a plate, and roll each banana slice in it, ensuring that it is coated with enough sugar. Place the coated banana in a spring roll wrapper and add about 6 ounces of jackfruit. Fold and lock the spring roll wrapper, using water to seal the edge.

2. In a pan, heat the oil and add leftover brown sugar. When the brown sugar floats, add wrapped banana and fry until the wrapper turns golden brown and the extra sugar sticks to the wrapper. Dust powdered sugar on the banana and serve with banana pudding (see below) for dipping.



8-ounce package of cream cheese

14-ounce can of condensed milk

1 packet of vanilla pudding mix

1½ cups milk

1½ cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces of whipped cream

2 to 3 bananas, sliced


Place all ingredients in a bowl, mix together and serve cold in individual bowls.

Milk plus alcohol equals tasty holiday cheer

I am not a Christmas crazy. I don’t early observe. There is never anything Christmasy visible on Thanksgiving. The tree goes up late in December, just before the kids come home, and I save the decorating until they can join in. We are the last on the street to put up lights, and I am one of those last-minute shoppers. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the season. But with the kids grown and gone, and a job to work at, the preparation has lost its magic. (Relax. I am not going to complain about my empty nest again this month.)

The only exception I make to pre-Christmas revelry is the immediate tuning of the car radio to the station that plays Christmas music, and the regular purchase of eggnog. The way I see it, drinking eggnog with one’s leftover turkey-cranberry sandwich is totally acceptable. I love it so much.    

The eggnog selection at the grocery store is crazy right now. You can get eggnog to suit whatever stage of lactose participation you are in. And because it is so readily available, it has become a regular item on the December shopping list. Eggnog lets me feel the holiday spirit with very little effort, and without lining the pockets of Starbucks.

The eggnog that you buy in the grocery store is the descendant — or rather, the amalgamation — of several old-timey milk-based beverages. Granted, milk plus alcohol sounds gross on the surface. The combination always reminds me of the time I was served homemade “Bailey’s,”  then had to call in sick the next day. But in the Middle Ages, milk and booze was, as they say, fancy pants. In preindustrial Northern Europe, few people had cows, so moo juice was largely the privilege of wealthy landowners. The best chance to find one of these milky cocktails was after a fox hunt on the estate of Lord Rupert Brimblegoggin-Tricklebank.

The first written version of something similar to eggnog was called posset, documented in 14th-century cookery books as a beverage made from milk, wine and spices that would be curdled and strained. Yes, you are right if you think it sounds like whey that gets you drunk. To that I say, “No, thank you.” Fifteenth-century recipes saw the addition of sugar, cream and sometimes eggs, which sounds a little better. They even had special posset pots for this, which look something like a teapot, but with two handles. If there is a recipe that involves an obscure piece of crockery I can buy, then I am completely on board.

Nog was a 17th-century term for English ale, and wooden drinking cups were called noggins. There are English recipes from that century that mix ale and milk, but it is thought that the term eggnog was coined by American colonists who mixed rum — or grog — with eggs and milk. Egg-n-grog eventually became eggnog, because here in America we never use two names when they can be combined into one. (See “Bennifer”).

These drinks gained popularity in the American colonies, where, though there were few fancy estates, there were plenty of cows. Here, colonists mixed their milk with rum, not ale, because, thanks to the triangle trade, it was cheap and plentiful.

(Stop here for a moment and reflect on the terrible history of slavery before resuming blissful holiday reading.)

Even though I consume store-bought eggnog on the regular, I will, when the occasion arises, happily whip up a batch from scratch the old-fashioned way. Especially when it means I can dust off the punch bowl. I could very easily turn to the Internet for an eggnog recipe. But I am not interested in a lame recipe that involves cooking your eggs into a custard. This is a modern step that was added when people started freaking out about raw eggs. I do not condone such paranoia, as I have only ever gotten salmonella from old fish, and I know that salmonella is more easily contracted from cutting a melon than cracking an egg. Also, I know that agitation (a.k.a. “beating”) denatures protein in the same way that heat does, and therefore whipped eggs are technically cooked.

Also, I live on the edge.

So, instead, I like to thumb through my ridiculous cookbook collection and find something truly ancient. My new favorite eggnog recipe came from the crispy, browning pages of America’s Cook Book, compiled in 1938 by the Home Institute of the New York Herald Tribune. The eggnog recipe in the cocktail chapter is the same as the recipe from the beverage chapter, but the former’s title was changed from Egg Nog to New Year’s Egg Nog because it sounded mighty boozy. Apparently, the ladies (I’m obviously making a gender assumption here) of the Home Institute of the New York Herald Tribune wanted you to think they only drank on holidays. The 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, ladies! Have at it!

Happy holidays!


Dust off your punch bowl or posset pot and try this for your next holiday gathering. I dare you! This recipe makes 24 1938-style portions, meaning dainty punch cups. If you are using larger cups, plan accordingly. Similarly, if you are just making this for yourself, cut down all ingredients equally across the board.


6 eggs, separated

¾ cup granulated sugar

1½ cups cognac

½ cup rum

4 cups milk

4 cups heavy cream

Freshly grated nutmeg


1. Whip the egg yolks and sugar until very light in color, and about as thick as sour cream (known in the biz as a “ribbon”). Slowly, while still beating, add the cognac and rum, then the milk and cream.   

2. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, then gently fold them into the yolk mixture. Top each serving with a generous sprinkling of grated nutmeg.   

Leslie Bilderback is a chef and cookbook author, a certified master baker and an art history instructor. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

NASA’s space telescope at Caltech has surpassed all predictions for discovery and longevity.

How are stars born? Where does that happen? What does it look like? What would a map of the Milky Way galaxy look like? Are there many more galaxies in space?

These are a few of the questions that NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which celebrated its 15th year in space this year, has been able to answer with visible imagery that is astonishing. Spitzer’s predicted lifespan was just 2½ years (in a best-case scenario, 5 years) because of the stressful environment of space, where temperatures range from well below freezing to planet surfaces as hot as stars, but it has lasted six times that forecast.

Spitzer is a can-do telescope, surpassing all predictions and then some. “It has been a bonanza and every day is a holiday,” said Michael Werner, project scientist for Spitzer Space Telescope, who has worked on the project for some 40 years. “Spitzer has exceeded all expectations for longevity and also discoveries.”

The raft of Spitzer’s otherworldly discoveries include: a stellar nursery, seven Earth-size planets, Saturn’s largest ring and the farthest and oldest galaxy ever known — all previously inconceivable, even to the astronomers and engineers who created and have maintained the telescope, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Caltech’s Spitzer Science Center. “Our ability to find and observe exoplanets [planets orbiting around a star other than the sun] has been really phenomenal,” added Werner. “We did a deep map to study galaxies almost as far back as the Big Bang. We mapped the Milky Way. We didn’t plan on it doing any of this.”

Spitzer was the fourth and final one of NASA’s so-called Great Observatories to reach space, joining Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. Spitzer has been described as the cornerstone of NASA’s Astronomical Search for Origins Program. Synthesizing data from various telescopes, which collect light in different wavelengths, helps scientists gain a clearer picture of the universe and wonders of the cosmos.

Spitzer was designed to observe the universe in infrared wavelengths of light, allowing a better view and retrieval of information about objects in space that are extremely far away or blocked by stellar dust. Infrared wavelengths of light are too long to be visible to the human eye and mostly emanate from heat radiation. The telescope’s infrared capabilities equip it to see through dust to detect and read stars and objects that are too faint or distant for optical telescopes, or that are obscured by turbulent clouds of space dust, said Sean Carey, manager of Spitzer Science Center. It is similar to what firefighters use to see through smoke, he added. “Spitzer told us how stars form,” said Carey. “We know they form in very dense infrared-dark clouds, [we] can see how many are forming, the spacing between stars and their sizes telling us how they form. Winds blow away the material they form out of so that you can see inside the stellar nurseries.” What creates the wind, said Carey, is light from massive hot stars, which pushes the material away from the stars after they form.

But Spitzer’s single most important discovery, scientists say, is the study of what is called the Trappist-1 system. Trappist-1 is an ultra-cool dwarf star 40 light years away. Trappist-1 has more Earth-size planets (called “exoplanets”) than any other known planetary system. These seven exoplanets are rocky but potentially habitable and are the most studied planetary system outside of our own solar system because of Spitzer. “Studying planets around other stars was in its infancy when Spitzer launched, but we now often spend more than half the time each year on these studies,” Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, project manager for Spitzer Telescope, said in an email. “The observatory wasn’t designed to do this, but it is really good at it.”

Spitzer accurately detects planets orbiting other stars by measuring the tiny dip in light from the star as the planet passes in front of it, known as “planetary transit.” This is now a commonly used technique to detect the depth and shape of the transit which provides information about the planets around other stars, added Storrie-Lombardi, who has worked on Spitzer for 19 years. Discoveries like these are beyond the scope of what Spitzer was originally designed to do in 2003 when it officially began its mission in space.

Spitzer’s infrared vision has also allowed scientists to study the most distant galaxies in the universe. Light from some of these distant galaxies traveled for 13.4 billion years to reach Earth, according to NASA’s website. Using data from the Spitzer and Hubble telescopes allowed “scientists to see these galaxies as they were less than 400 million years after the birth of the universe,” according to JPL’s website. Spitzer identified many distant galaxy clusters previously unknown. What surprised scientists was the discovery of so-called “big baby” galaxies that were much larger and more mature than early galaxies were believed to be. These big baby galaxies indicated that massive clusters of stars came together very early in the universe’s history, the website notes.

Spitzer has also mapped the entire disk of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. “We initially thought that the Milky Way galaxy disk would just be too bright for Spitzer,” said Storrie-Lombardi. “We figured out how to do it and this program provides one of the most spectacular science legacies of the mission.”

With data gleaned from Spitzer, scientists were able to create one of the most extensive maps of the Milky Way galaxy ever compiled, including the most accurate map of the large bar of stars in the galaxy’s center. There is now a map of the entire 360-degree expanse of the Milky Way available to astronomers and the public. A continually looping view of the entire galaxy moving past can be seen at by searching for a video titled “Panning Through the Milky Way.”

Other Spitzer discoveries include the largest known ring around Saturn, a wispy, fine structure 300 times the planet’s diameter, and the first giant gas exoplanet (a hot Jupiter) weather map of temperature variations across its surface, showing the presence of fierce winds.

What the future holds for Spitzer is yet to be determined, but the revolutionary telescope’s space mission continues through November 2019. Thus far, Spitzer has logged 106,000 hours observing space, and thousands of scientists around the world have used Spitzer data in their studies. Spitzer data has been cited in more than 8,000 published papers. For the social media– and virtual reality–obsessed public, NASA has created a selfie app for IOS and Android phones that “dresses” you in a space suit (or you might follow Storrie-Lombardi’s example and use it to snap your pet — Maria the dog is on Facebook floating in the Milky Way; she posted that in August and just made it public). The backgrounds for the selfie app include the Galactic Center, the Cigar Galaxy or Cassiopeia A. There is also an Exoplanet Excursions Virtual Reality Experience for Vive or Oculus devices, found at And to highlight Spitzer’s greatest discovery, Trappist-1, there is a 360-degree video on Youtube titled “NASA’s Exoplanet Excursions 360.”

From the dawn of human history people have been trying to understand what we see when we look up at the night sky, and how we fit into it. “Seeing the incredible response and excitement, worldwide, to the discovery of the Trappist-1 planetary system was one of the most rewarding moments of my professional life,” said Storrie-Lombardi. “There were over 5 billion web hits on stories about it. I think the biggest contribution space astronomy makes is connecting so many people with the wonders of our universe.”